The 20-year old nonpartisan organization Rock the Vote, whose mission is to get young people engaged in the political process, made a stop at John Hay High School yesterday as part of a 40-plus city tour to promote its Democracy Class program.
Eric Axelson, a former teacher who now works for RTV, led a group of juniors in a discussion about what issues matter to them — the issues they cited ranged from gangs to potholes to the cost of college — and how their failure to vote will assure that politicians don’t address those issues.
He then appointed two student volunteers to “run for mayor,” taking questions from their fellow students who then voted for their favorite. The class concluded with Axelson passing out voter registration forms to fill out “for practice” and also to log their contact information so the mostly 17-year-olds could receive a reminder text when they are old enough to register for real.
But the class really sprang to attention at the end when two young men who’d quietly taken seats at the back of the room sauntered to the front to take questions. Earl “Ben J” Benjamin and Dominic “Legacy” Thomas comprise hip-hop group the New Boyz and already have three top 30 hits under their belts at age 19. The group is making appearances across the country with the Rock the Vote program, which Axelson says is targeting urban schools. “The suburban schools already have so many resources for programs like this,” he says. “And urban kids vote in far lower percentages.”
Before leaving the classroom for a rally in the auditorium that featured a couple of numbers by the New Boyz, students cued up to have their photos taken with the duo, handing their phones to their accommodating social studies teacher Sherylynn Allen-Harris. — Anastasia Pantsios